UN confirms full NKorea nuclear shutdown
( AP ) - U.N. inspectors have verified that North Korea has shuttered all facilities at its main nuclear complex beyond its sole working reactor, the chief of the watchdog agency said Wednesday, as envoys gathered for six-nation talks on the next steps toward Pyongyang's disarmament.
Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced earlier in the week that his team of inspectors had verified the shutdown of North Korea's only working nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang.
His announcement Wednesday confirmed the shutdown of four additional facilities, including two long-dormant construction sites for larger reactors and facilities for making reactor fuel and reprocessing it to harvest plutonium for bombs.
"We have verified all the five nuclear facilities have been shut down," ElBaradei told reporters during a visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He said the U.N. inspectors had sealed some of the facilities.
The verification came as negotiators gathered in Beijing for talks expected to focus on setting a schedule for North Korea to declare all its nuclear programs and then disable them so they cannot be easily restarted.
The North has pledged in principle to eventually abandon its nuclear facilities, and Washington hopes that can be accomplished by the end of the year.
But proceeding beyond the reactor's closure is "a road that nobody has ever walked on," South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo said.
"How to remove obstacles that may be hidden on that road, and how to draw a map to get there is the task" facing delegates from the six nations involved in the negotiations - the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
The delegates last met in March, although the main U.S. envoy Christopher Hill made a surprise trip to Pyongyang in June - his first ever. After a preliminary series of one-on-one talks Tuesday between the U.S. and North Korea, Hill said no new obstacles had immediately emerged and the sides were "in the same ballpark."
The closure of the plutonium-producing Yongbyon reactor was North Korea's first step toward halting production of atomic weapons since the standoff began in 2002. That happened when the U.S. accused North Korea of having a uranium enrichment program.
Now the question is whether Pyongyang will publicly acknowledge the uranium program.
"Uranium enrichment is an ongoing issue and, believe me, we are working on it," Hill said Wednesday.
Hill said that the U.S. also would demand the North declare how much plutonium it has produced and how much it currently possesses. North Korea conducted its first-ever test nuclear explosion in October, but the detonation was believed to be relatively weak in power and it is not known how much plutonium was used.
North Korea has begun receiving 50,000 tons of oil from South Korea as a reward for the reactor shutdown, and is to eventually receive the equivalent of a total 1 million tons for disabling its nuclear facilities.
But Pyongyang also has demanded the U.S. and Japan end their "hostile" policies against the regime, such as other economic sanctions and being named on a U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states.